When Wayne Simmonds wants to win a battle, Flyers captain Claude Giroux said, he usually wins it.
And when the wiry winger wins those battles, as he did in Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers that forced a Game 7 (see story), his entire team benefits.
“It kind of gives everybody in the room a little motivation to do the same,” Giroux said.
If that’s the case, Simmonds led the way in the Flyers’ critical Game 6 victory. He couldn’t have given his teammates any more fuel than he did, netting his first career postseason hat trick (see video). He was physical, he was fast and he was amped up (see 10 observations).
As Simmonds said earlier Tuesday, the Flyers weren’t ready for their season to end. They didn’t want to lose the battle to the Rangers in front of their fans.
He backed up those words with his actions on the ice.
“Obviously, it’s do or die,” Simmonds said. “We didn’t want to go home. I think everyone in the dressing room did a good job getting prepared for the game. We were not ready to go home yet. We want to move on to the second round.
“I thought we played a good game today. We've just got to carry over the momentum to [Wednesday] night.”
Simmonds’ hat trick was just the second of his NHL career -- the first came last year against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 20. It marked the first time in 73 games Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist gave up a hat trick in the postseason.
The key, Simmonds said, was aggressiveness.
“It’s something we definitely discussed as a team,” he said. “I think Chief [coach Craig Berube] really relayed that message to us. I think we were kind of -- I don’t know if I want to say scared, but we’re used to getting a lot of penalties. Sometimes when you’re overaggressive, the refs tend to throw their arms up and you kind of shy away from physical play.
“But as long as you’re doing it smart, you’re playing on the line and not over the line, you should be fine. I think that’s the way we did it tonight, and it worked.”
Simmonds opened up the Flyers’ scoring on the power play at 7:08 of the first period, hammering the puck past Lundqvist from the goalie’s right after getting a number of whacks on it. It was just the second time in the six games of the series the Flyers scored first (see highlights).
He netted his second goal from the same spot beside Lundqvist at 1:32 of the second period, sliding a pass from Brayden Schenn into the Rangers’ net.
“He's a good player, especially around the net,” Jakub Voracek said. “He finds that soft spot on the side of the posts. He buried big goals tonight.”
He capped it off by carrying the puck from the left circle toward the slot and whipping it past Lundqvist at 15:19 of the second period to deafening cheers.
And then the hats -- and one brightly colored sneaker -- rained down from the crowd.
“We knew the situation,” Simmonds said. “And I think you've got to get pumped up for games like this. … We continued our aggressiveness and we took it with us for the rest of the game.”
Simmonds now leads the Flyers in the postseason with four goals. And he’s happy Game 7 is less than 24 hours away, if only because he believes the Flyers can quickly carry the momentum from their victory over to Madison Square Garden.
He's still not ready for the Flyers' playoff battle to be over.
“We have one common goal: to go out there and get wins,” Simmonds said. “And that’s what we’re going to do and what we try to do every night.”